It's pretty common to hear the benefits of raw, whole foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, as they are packed with antioxidants and other necessary nutrients. However, certain foods have more nutrition when they're cooked rather than raw, despite the notions that high-temperature cooking can diminish nutritional quality and absorption. Of course, don't stop eating foods raw, as it's true that cooking can reduce nutrient uptake at times, but be aware of which ingredients break that rule (and get that tasty stir-fry going).
As a certified health coach, I work with clients on finding a type of diet that works with their bodily needs and health goals. Knowing which ingredients allow them to thrive, and which maybe can't be tolerated as well, can help them feel comfortable in their skin, have excellent digestion, and have stable mood and energy levels. What's more, absorbing key nutrients (to the max) will improve bodily functions and prevent disease. Sometimes cooking can interfere with this process, but other times, turning on the oven or stove can actually deliver greater benefits, as it'll increase the accessibility of nutrient uptake and guarantee that you're reaping all the rewards of the healthy foods on your plate. Here are seven foods that should be cooked. Your body (and probably taste buds, too) will thank you.
"Raw asparagus is delicious when shaved, but cooking helps break down the thick cell walls, which can make it hard for our bodies to absorb asparagus’ A, C, and E, and folate," explains nutritionist Tehzeeb Lalani over email with Bustle. What's more, "cooking also makes antioxidants, specifically ferulic acid, more available to the body," says Lalani.
Cooked carrots might increase absorption of antioxidants for the body to use, and they taste great. "Cooked carrots have higher levels of beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth, and regulating the immune system," explains Lalani.
It turns out that cooking increases the lycopene content found in tomatoes. "Heat actually does this by breaking down the cell wall, allowing the body to absorb a portion of bound up vitamins and nutrients," says Robert Glatter, MD, over email with Bustle. More reasons to eat up? "Studies have linked high intake of lycopene with a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks. And lycopene may actually be more a more potent antioxidant compared with vitamin C," Glatter adds.
Spinach is an example of a vegetable that may "supply more antioxidants, including carotenoids and ferulic acid when cooked, as opposed to when consumed raw," says Glatter. This applies to steaming or even boiling them, Glatter explains, as it'll help preserve antioxidants for better absorption.
Here's more reason to throw some cooked mushrooms in a tofu stir fry or in a mac n' cheese or pasta dish. "Thoroughly heating them releases the nutrients they contain, including protein, B vitamins, and minerals," says Lalani, as the cell wall is indigestible when raw. Plus, mushrooms have tons of fiber and potassium, so they'll fill you up.
6. Red Peppers
Because of the lycopene content in red peppers, it's better to eat them cooked (similarly to tomatoes), says Glatter. What's more, red bell peppers will be better absorbed with a small amount of fat, like olive oil in a cooked red pepper dip or some coconut oil in a spicy stir fry.
Lalani says that pumpkin can deliver greater nutritional benefits when cooked than raw, as well, so you might want to eat some pumpkin pie for dessert or mash some pumpkin for a yummy side to pair with poultry or fish. Pumpkin's beta carotene content will be more readily available when under cooking conditions. Try combining pumpkin with a creamy coconut curry for a delicious, warming soup.
While there's no reason to stop eating these foods raw (they still taste great as additions to fresh salads or dips), you might want to focus on eating them cooked when possible in order to better serve your body and reap all the benefits.